From under his fingernail [the water-god] Enki brought forth dirt. He fashioned the dirt into a kurgarra, a creature neither male nor female. From under the fingernail of his other hand he brought forth dirt. He fashioned the dirt into a galatur, a creature neither male nor female. … Enki spoke to the kurgarra and galatur, saying: "Go to the underworld, enter the door like flies. Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, is moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth.” …

The kurgarra and the galatur heeded Enki's words. They set out for the underworld. Like flies, they slipped through the cracks of the gates. They entered the throne room of the Queen of the Underworld. No linen was spread over her body. Her breasts were uncovered. Her hair swirled around her head … Ereshkigal was moaning: "Oh! Oh! My inside!" They moaned: "Oh! Oh! Your inside!" … Ereshkigal stopped. She looked at them. She asked: "Who are you, moaning … sighing with me? If you are gods, I will bless you. If you are mortals, I will give you a gift.” Kramer trans. Inanna

Rain frogs sit high in the leaves of the solomon’s seal and on the flat tops of flowering yarrow to catch passing insects. The frogs are quiet, though – they signal no rain to come. Dry and drier, grasses deepen their gold, and grazed paddocks turn the brown of bare earth. Moisture-loving plants begin to die. We lift our heads to check for the smell of smoke along the wind as houses and farms just around the coast from here have a near miss when a fire starts and is fanned by the sea breeze. 

Along the gravel road, passing cars send up plumes of dust that settle to form a ground on which animals leave clear tracks – scuffle-marks where young pademelons have dance-boxed each other; unbroken lines where big males have dragged their tails in slow menace-hops, trying to psych each other out; graceful curves where a tiger snake has crossed in search of frogs and late nestlings in blackberry thickets beside the road.

Fierce heat breathes across the mainland, and in places there are weeks of almost 50-degree Celsius days and 30+ degrees at night. Wildfires incinerate forests and take out dozens of houses in small towns north and west of Melbourne. At the same time, thunderstorms mushroom out of nowhere with fist-sized hail and chaotic winds that flatten stands of trees, rip roofs off houses and sheds and drop transmission towers, leaving their steel girders crumpled in heaps like props from a battle scene in War of the Worlds.

Here we have been protected through most of the summer as front after front rolls up and over the island from out of the Southern Ocean, cooling. At last, though, for two days heat blasts down off the mainland unchallenged by any southerly airflow, and we’re suddenly deep in the danger zone. Golden light and clear skies alternate with streaks of cloud from the north or, more frighteningly, from the northwest, directly off thousands of kilometres of desert. Distances blue with smoke, as fires sparked in the windy dry burn uncontrolled in the central highlands of the island, while in Victoria, more forest and farmland, more settlements burn or cower under threat of burning. Once again, though, here in the valley we’re spared, despite the bored teenager who starts a fire in his backyard just down the hill.
In the midst of this profound disturbance arising from human disavowal of relationship with the ground that sustains us, and trying to stay with the churning of my own guts in response, I’m thinking again about the ancient Sumerian myth of the goddess Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, and her sister Inanna, Queen of Heaven. In it, Inanna descends to the underworld to witness the funeral rites of Ereshkigal’s husband, Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven – who has been killed as a direct result of Inanna’s actions. As Joshua Mark points out, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Inanna is shown to be responsible for Gugalanna’s death, having summoned him to attack the hero Gilgamesh, after Gilgamesh refuses to become Inanna’s lover. The Bull of Heaven is killed in this fight.

Ereshkigal mourns and rages “with the cries of a woman about to give birth,” and when her sister appears, “fasten[s] on Inanna the eye of death,” turning her into “a corpse, a piece of rotting meat … hung from a hook on the wall.” Our upper world appetites, and what we’re prepared to do to have them met, have consequences in the guts of things. Inanna wrecks the balance to get what she wants, and so brings an end to her own reign.

To enable life to continue, Enki, god of the deep aquifers, sends two creatures made of the dirt from under his fingernails to mourn with Ereshkigal until she is able to come to her senses once more and allow some balance of light and dark to return. She agrees to let the mourners bring Inanna back to life and restore her to her daylight queendom – if Inanna sends her own husband, Dumuzi, in her place. 

Australian Zen teacher Susan Murphy has written a book that turns this flow of consolation from mourners to the bereaved upside down – or rather, inside out, offering an experience of grief as a gift and a guide to connection with what we have wounded. She says:

In the great fires of 2019 and 2020, … vast pyrocumulonimbus clouds towering over our heads crackled with thunder and spat fire-created drops of rain as we made final moves to flee and take shelter with friends. Under that apocalyptic skyscape I took a moment … to seek personal counsel from the Earth that mothers us, something I’d learned to do decades before in the company of the remarkable Wiradjuri elder Minmia, otherwise known as Auntie Maureen Smith: 
Find a place that wants you to sit on the ground. Take your time before easing your fingertips a little way into the earth, and then, when you feel the connection, speak your name out loud, saying, “This is your daughter/son [name], talking with you, Mother.” Take a moment for the question that needs to be asked to arrive in your heart, then speak it out loud and wait for the return touch, the unexpected words that sound in your own heart.
My question that moment for the Earth arose from sheer exhaustion and sorrow that had replaced several months of mounting fear: “What do you need me to know about this?”
Her reply came in its own time with a slight buzz in my hands and a jolt to my heart: “Your suffering with me is my care for you.”

The hens that raised chicks are all laying again, and the rooster strolls the garden with one of the flock then another, looking for nest sites and discussing pros and cons. One morning I hear this conversation close to the house and step outside to find, under a bench set along the wall beside the door, that the rooster has made a deep soft nest of dried grass and is sitting in it, speaking persuasively to the hen who stands looking in, considering. The next day I find that she has accepted his recommendation and laid an egg there.

Days wind down, they shorten and cool but there’s still no rain. Olive whistlers chase each other through the understorey, calling, and their sound is the sound of autumn, like the clinking cries of young parrots and crescent honeyeaters. Ignoring the half dozen bigger water pots around the garden, a scarlet robin, three silvereyes and a family of blue wrens all bathe together in the rock hollow that holds about a litre of water. On the last nights of the month, dry lightning crackles and booms. Sickness and medicine heal each other; our insides grieve, and we follow that ache to begin.
Samuel N. Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth. Harper & Row, 1983.            
Joshua J. Mark. Inanna's Descent. World history Encyclopedia, 2011
Susan Murphy. A Fire Runs Through All Things. Shambala, 2023.


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